I am continually struck by how not only the political class and leftist media but also Fox News and many conservative pundits remain so bullish on a Clinton candidacy in 2016. If you take a look at just a few examples, assembled here and here, you would think the GOP should not even attempt to field a candidate against her. That candidate must surely be a sacrificial lamb. Not quite Though. Assuming Hillary runs she is far from a sure bet to give Democrats a third term in the White House.
Bill Clinton is well-known for his ability to feel the pain of others and retail politic. It gave him two terms as Governor of Arkansas as well as two terms in the White House. Hilary has no such retail politicking skill. It is not something that can be taught. In 2008 in Iowa she was totally outworked by then Senator Obama. Her win in New Hampshire the next week is more credited to her tenure as Senator of neighboring New York state and outspending any other campaign by large margins. While third-party spending and Citizens United have reshaped the Presidential landscape the ability to retail politic is incredibly important. It allows the media to humanize a candidate and even out a candidate’s rough edges.
Hilary’s efforts to even out her rough edges were on display this week when she went on TV and in an interview said she and Bill were broke when they left the White House. Somehow, she equated this to feeling the average person’s pain. And in this her weakness as a candidate can be seen. Most Americans would not be broke if they had access to a $400,000 salary and a Presidential and Arkansas state pension. Most Americans also know former Presidents make loads of cash on book tours and event touring after the Presidency. Obviously, most Americans when they leave a job do not have access to such resources, broke or not.
Clinton’s flaws as a candidate also ties into another weakness. The Democratic Party of today is a mish-mash of ethic, cultural, racial, age, religious and geographic constituencies. Young Democrats in urban Detroit are differentt than African-Americans in rural North Carolina much as South Florida Jews are different from blue-collar whites in Iowa. Obama was a strong candidate and as a result was able to bring many of these groups into the Democratic camp twice. Can Clinton do the same thing?
I am not nearly so bullish as Ross Douthat (article above) of the New York Times. Hilary has shown little ability to assemble any political coalition during her political tenure. Sure, she won minorities and whites in her Senate victory in NY state in 2002. But New York is so blue if she had not you would wonder why the state suddenly turned red. More tellingly, she failed to win minorities, the young, urban voters and Asians in a large majority of 2008 primary states. As was mentioned above, the current Democratic coalition is an unruly coalition of voting groups often at odds with one another but even more at odds with the GOP. These multiple groups need a reason beyond partisanship to come out and vote Democratic for President. Obama gave them that reason by being a transformation candidate and speaking to many of their hopes, desire, and dreams. For example, Obama’s youth spoke to Millennials and urban youth on an age level. His minority candidacy appealed to Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans across the country.
Lastly, and perhaps most important for Hilary, the party has left her behind generationally and ideologically. Ideologically, the majority of the Democratic Party is far less hawkish than she is, less pro-business and increasingly located outside Appalachia. Hilary’s strength in the 2008 primary campaign came from Appalachia where traditionally Democratic whites supported her. These voters are older, less liberal and remember better the days of Bill Clinton. Generationally, the Democratic Party is younger, composed primarily Millennials and Generation Y voters. Obama, a Generation Y member, spoke to this base. Clinton, a boomer, could find it more of a challenge.
Of course, if Clinton runs she is unlikely to face a serious primary challenge. This would allow her to distance herself from the struggling Obama Presidency and war game her general election campaign without distraction. Republicans, likely to have a crowded field, run the possibility of nominating a weak candidate or having a nominee emerged so damaged that the Clinton candidacy crushes him/her. Since 2004, Republicans have underperformed among their base and in 2016 they can afford no such repeat.
Still, the quality of the GOP bench for the Presidency looks extremely strong. Further, the Presidency of Obama is likely to prove more of a hindrance than help for Hilary. Already, she has tried to distance herself from the administration (they told me to attack Sarah Palin) but also being supportive of its liberal initiatives. That tight-walk is not easily performed by the best candidate. Hilary appears to be far from one of the best candidates in recent years.
Clinton could very well prove me wrong in 2016. Her candidacy could catch fire and she could manage to reassemble the Obama coalition to a degree or she could even build her own coalition. She could crush the GOP nominee and give the party a third term in the White House. I just don’t see it at this point. She is not a strong campaigner, is out of step with her party and does not seem to speak to the hopes and aspirations of many Democratic leaning voters. Democrats suffered in 2010 from not having Obama on the ballot in 2010. The same may occur in 2014…and 2016 If Hillary turns out to be as weak as I suspect she is.